Picking the right methodology is the most important step in getting to data that moves you forward. But it’s often not given as much brain power as it could be.  With the explosion in methodologies and data sources available it’s getting harder to know which approach is best suited to what objectives.  

We use one simple question as a key to the methodological toolbox:  ‘how much of the consumer do we need to see?’ (no, not like that, that would be immoral).

Sometimes seeing a small part of their behaviour, disembodied from the rest, is enough – even preferable.  ‘How often do they buy?‘ Right, we need to double that. ‘How much do they spend?’  Our products are too expensive. 

But sometimes you need more background.  You need to put choices in context and ‘see’ broader attitudes to the category – the motivations or habits that sit behind decisions.

Then there are those times when you need a picture of the whole person – their world-view, self-image and family life. It’s information that can inspire radical change, lead to truly motivating comms, or simply ensures a company is on the same wave length as its customers.

Most methods and info sources fall into one of Four Tiers.


What it gives you: inspiration and empathy

Good if your objective is: NPD, audience expansion, repositioning, company culture transformation, creative comms inspiration


What it gives you: understanding of the immediate factors that influence choices

Good if your objective is: existing product or service improvement, experience development, messaging hierarchy, packaging development/ design, range hierarchy


What it gives you: nuggets of information for solving specific problems and answering ‘either-or’ questions

Good if your project objectives is: fine tuning how you interact with people on the purchase journey, assessing value, understanding the basics of how your audience breaks down, setting business objectives and growth strategy


What it gives you: not the person but the market and psychological framework you need to work within

Good if your project objectives is: predicting the impact of trends or speeding up decision making – the more you know about how people generally react the less you will have to ask them specifically

As a last note, we’d suggest taking a look at your research plan for the year and seeing how many of the four tiers you’re coving off.  We tend to find companies gravitate towards either the inner or outer tiers, rather than achieving a healthy mix across the board.

Too much time spent on Tier One & Two can leave an organisation with a lot of information but not necessarily a huge amount of direction.

On the flip side, info gleaned from Tiers 3 & 4 is often very directional but also pretty universal.  It tends to be the information that everyone has, including your competitors. Without the more nuanced understanding that comes from Tier One & Two you’ll often find the direction the data sends you in is exactly the same one as everybody else.